On October 11, The National Circus of the People’s Republic of China performed “Cirque Chinois” as a part of the McCain Auditorium Performance Series.
The show began with something like an opening ceremony with elaborate costumes and choreography. Like many segments of the performance, a central figure presided over the activities from the rear of the stage, using their arms to seemingly direct the performers or acting as an on-stage representation of the nobility that Chinese circus performers once entertained.
After the opening, contortionists showed their improbable abilities to twist and pose in various ways. The performers showed incredible strength and balance as they combined their bodies into symmetrical living sculptures. The all female performers stacked themselves on the contorted forms of their fellow performers four high on the stage. The performance was beautiful and left the audience in awe.
Next, performers spun and tossed weighted ropes called meteors as they tumbled and flipped around the stage followed by aerialists who hung from pink and blue cloth suspended above the ceiling swinging from height supported only by the cloth wrapped around them.
The transitions between acts were masked by a dark stage. When the lights came up, there was often a procession of costumed characters as each act used completely different styles and colors. For the ring divers the costumes were tribal in appearance while the aerial ring performer’s costumes were simple and modern.
One of the crowd favorites was a magician who performed twice. Once the act consisted of a mask that changed quickly in time with the background music. Later he reappeared and did a few sleight of hand tricks including infinite cards, where the magician rapidly produced numerous playing cards from an empty hand.
Another solo performer was a girl who did poses while balancing on one hand atop a pole. Using singular balance and strength, her performance was impressive if slower in pace than the teeterboard act that preceded it. It was equally as gravity defying as the aerial rope performance after.
In the aerial rope performance, a man and woman showed their own strength as they supported each other through several aerial transitions. Some of the transitions were so fluid that the audience seemed to think the performers were falling.
The audience seemed enthralled with most of the performances. There were several times when gasps, oohs and ahs erupted spontaneously from the crowd. Even during more passive acts like the dance where each dancer held eight poles with spinning plates, the audience seemed fully engrossed in the spectacle.
The last performance before the finale consisted of a number of acrobats balancing atop a bicycle as it circled the stage. The astounding number of performers that managed to stay atop the cycle was overshadowed only by four cycles circling in unison as performer kept the cycles moving while changing from one pose to the next. At one point two performers on each bike pedaled on opposite sides, their legs working as though part of the same person.
In the finale, performers returned wearing costumes from all of the acts and received appropriate applause from an audience that seemed to appreciate their performances.
While there were a few misses throughout the night, those were minimal and quickly forgotten after the next stunt. The overall production was well done. If anything detracted from the performance it may have been the quality of audio. At some points the music sounded flat and scratchy.
Stage acrobatics are not for everyone, but I would encourage everyone to see one. Given a choice, The National Circus of the People’s Republic of China follows such a long tradition it is a good place to start. You may be surprised how much fun the performance can be.